Health File

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Just A Few Steps A Day

What is the single best thing we can do for our health?

Exercise.

Just a half hour a day, advises Toronto family physician Dr. Mike Evans, whose popular video 23 and ½ hours, has gone viral on YouTube. (He does make the point that more is better and kids need at least one active hour every day).

The video, netted more than two million viewers in the first couple of months. And judging by the comments posted on the site, it has spurred some reluctant exercisers to take a healthy dose of his advice.

You may wonder why. It’s not a new message, after all. The secret is in the delivery. Although it’s a lecture, Evans isn’t wagging his finger.

Yes, he does cite research that shows exercise reduces pain, helps prevent or stave off chronic diseases, improves mood, reduces fatigue, etc. But a spoonful of sugar accompanies these sober messages—the entertaining, fast-forward illustrations by Liisa Sorsa.

It’s a pleasant change from doom-and-gloom messengers who seem to want to guilt people into exercising in order to avoid heart attacks, diabetes or cancer, or the overly perky exercise fanatics who can’t seem to understand there are people who do not find much (for some, any) pleasure in treadmills, exercise classes, sports or gym equipment.

The earnest eggers-on have a tough audience in the exercise-averse. The message we “play” sports is lost on many of a certain age whose lifestyle habits were formed against a background of anti-exercise messages like “sports aren’t for girls” or guys who “run or throw like girls” and “ladies (and eggheads) don’t sweat.” In high school the brainy and brawny crowds didn’t much mix. Physical education classes and equipment budgets were cut because they were deemed frills. Gym class calisthenics alone were enough to permanently turn some off the idea that exercise could be fun.

And today, there are the mesmeric attractions of electronics to keep some of us firmly planted in our seats. “Social norms play a role,” says a Statistics Canada report…and “becoming active is contrary to the norm.”

Evans seems to get that; he likens exercise to medicine; but his dose—just half an hour a day—doesn’t seem too much to swallow. To the overcommitted or those struggling with a chronic health condition, taking 10,000 steps a day can seem an impossible goal. Equally daunting to the overweight is the suggestion to shed 20 pounds to reduce health risks. For these folks, Evans’s message is heartening—you can reap benefits with only half an hour a day, regardless of age, even if you’re plump and you don’t lose weight.

And you can do it simply by walking.

Follow his advice, and you’ll be an hour ahead of the weekly minimum recommended in the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which can be found at www.csep.ca/english/view.asp?x=804:

  • Adults—2½ hours of at least moderate aerobic activity weekly, in bouts of 10 minutes or more (brisk walking, cycling, swimming), plus muscle and bone strengthening activities twice a week.
  • Those 65 and up with poor mobility need physical activities that enhance balance in order to prevent falls.
  • Children—At least an hour of physical activity daily, with vigorous activities three times a week and activities that strengthen muscle and bone three days a week.

Fewer than 15 per cent of adults 40 and over meet the guidelines, says StatsCan, and more than half are inactive.

“Walking is a low-impact, safe exercise, even for those who are overweight or have arthritis,” says Healthy U, an Alberta Health and Wellness website. “You don’t need any training, and you can go at your own pace and on your own time. The only cost is a good pair of comfortable, supportive walking shoes.” The website, www.healthyalberta.com/ActiveLiving/171.htm, has plenty of advice on how to go about increasing wear on your shoe leather. The Canada Safety Council website, canadasafetycouncil.org/news/impaired-walking, has some sobering statistics on walking, and how to do it safely.

ParticipAction’s website, with assistance from The Canadian Fitness Lifestyle Research Institute, has monthly lifestyle tips to help you tailor activity to suit your family. HealthyCanada.com has tips for seniors to want to start, or make the most of, a walking program. And for those who do want to take on the challenge of 10,000 steps a day, there’s a downloadable progress chart.

Odd Body Fact

A quarter of all the human body’s bones are in the feet and ankles—52 in total. Each foot and ankle also has 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. As we walk our daily estimated average of 5,000 to 7,000 steps (that’s about four to 5½ kilometres), our feet absorb hundreds of tons of force. The feet also have about 250,000 sweat glands which produce half a cup of moisture a day. This, of course, does not explain why the average North American woman owns a dozen to a dozen and a half pairs of shoes. Hey, a healthy self-image is also important to health!

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